The famous cat and mouse are the stars of the show, not the humans.
To quote Roger Ebert when he panned “Inspector Gadget” on his Worst of 1999 show: “One of the freedoms of cartoons is their freedom from the ordinary laws of time and space, and in animation, we accept that, but in live-action, unless it’s done very well, it’s not funny. It’s just particular, and that’s what this movie was.”
It’s usually the case, especially when movies like “Scooby Doo,” “The Smurfs,” “Alivin and the Chipmunks,” and “Yogi Bear” taint the characters, by making them look like weird CGI creatures. But not with “Tom and Jerry,” which follows the “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” tradition of keeping the characters traditionally animated, while merging with CGI effects in a live-action universe.
Tom the cat and Jerry the mouse are the most famous cat and mouse duo in Hanna-Barbara’s cartoon collection, which is why “The Simpsons” made “Itchy and Scratchy” so iconic and dangerous. I’ve watched the classic cartoons as a kid, and my mother knows today’s generation watches the cartoons (either the classics or the new ones, I’m not sure), so I was easily impressed with how director Tim Story (“Ride Along,” “Think Like a Man”) was able to assemble a team of professionals to keep the original drawings, in order to convince us they are really Tom and Jerry, and not Mike Myers or James Corden in prosthetics or green suits (if you catch my drift).
This would be the third time the duo worked with real people after they swan with Esther Williams in “Dangerous When Wet” and after Gene Kelly taught Jerry to dance in “Anchors Aweigh,” but the humans here aren’t as iconic as them. They’re more like hit-&-misses, where sometimes they ham things up, other times, they have their sweet and humorous moments, and other times, they’re just witnesses to the mayhem Tom and Jerry engage in.
The story is set in a NYC hotel, where a wedding is set to take place. Among the human actors, Chloe Grace Moretz plays Kayla, a down-on-her-luck Kristen Bell-type character, who steals a professional resume in order to get a job in the hotel; Michael Pena is her deputy manager, who’s likable when he’s playing a goof trying to be serious; Rob Delaney is the wealthy manager, who acts like a Tom and Jerry human character with his tone and mannerisms; Colin Jost and Pallavi Sharda are the lovely couple, who are both dealing with wedding problems; and Ken Jeong is the chef, who destroys the wedding cake when Jerry drops by.
Kayla’s assignment is to get rid of Jerry, who sneaks in and steals small trinkets, including an iPhone and the bride’s ring. So, she enlists Tom to help her, and eventually, she tells them they have to get along in order for the hotel to keep its appearance during the wedding. Fans can pretty much guess how these frenemies work, but it’s entertaining how they engage themselves in the situations and comedy.
Certain elements in “Tom and Jerry” have to be obligatory like a creepy bellhop (Patsy Ferran) popping up unexpectedly, or Spike the bulldog (voiced by Bobby Cannavale) providing the toilet humor, and I’m more or less mixed about the humans. But I didn’t see this movie because those celebrity names were on the poster. I saw it because Tom and Jerry are the stars of the show. When they’re together or separate on screen (and all the animals in the movie are animated for the record), they’re fun and engaging.
Their special effects and props help bring them to life, while archival and new vocal recordings make them sound like the iconic duo. If it’s one thing I’ve learned after seeing the animated reboots of “Smurfs: The Lost Village” and “Scoob,” both of which I didn’t like, it’s that we want to see our favorite cartoon characters sound like cartoon characters, and not celebrities. And the fact that these two don’t talk (and the 1992 animated movie learned that lesson the hard way) makes me relieved they’re not voiced by Kevin Hart or Ryan Reynolds for example.
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